What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


One of the cool things about growing orchids is watching the flower buds grow, develop, and open up. Inside the bud, the long, thin, dangly petals of some slipper orchids may be folded up like an accordion, suddenly dropping down to extend the length of my forearm or even longer once they’re released. Where and how the pouch is folded, I still don’t understand. Some of the cattleya orchids have their frilly lips all tightly packed and bundled up inside the bud, to be released in a mini-explosion once the time comes.

I remember one incident when I was sitting at my desk working, with a cattleya in bud sitting on a shelf, off to one side. As I was typing, I thought I saw something move, out of the corner of my eye. Then it moved again. It was the orchid. One of the buds visibly opened up as I watched it. I felt like I was watching one of those time-lapse films speeded up, but this was in real time. The sepals popped open with a tiny audible sound, and the much larger petals and frilly lip unfolded before my eyes.

The fragrance of many orchid flowers, especially cattleyas, changes over the course of their bloom. A great many cattleyas start out smelling indolic and camphorous, with the floral scent developing over the span of a few days. Sometimes even the floral scent switches from one fragrance during the day to a completely different one at night. As the flower prepares to die, it takes on yet a different scent, a little bit woody, with some green tea notes.

The saga of the Golden Cattleya continues. I originally made three different test versions, which I sent out to a few people. Without my consciously intending to do so, these three versions mimicked the life cycle of a cattleya flower. The perfume that I currently sell is the middle one, the most floral of the three.

Gail liked the skanky version #1 (GC1) so much that she has inspired me to remake it to more fully emphasize the indolic, camphorous notes that cattleyas put out when the flowers first open, before the mature floral scent fully develops. I’m thinking of calling the finished version Emergence.

A few days ago I worked on the new base for Emergence, keeping the civet and labdanum that were in the original GC1, but adding a few things, especially some indolic and camphorous stuff. To begin with it smelled excessively strong, but now that it’s settled down for a few days I think it’s going to work. Now for a slightly modified upper half, and Gail will get to test it!

Inspired by Tarleisio’s comments, I’m going to reformulate the third version (GC3) to represent the final stage of the cattleya flower and call it Memento Mori, the name that she suggested. These three perfumes will eventually form a suite that provides snapshots of the cattleya flower from birth to death.


  1. Hi Ellen,

    I am really looking forward to testing the new version of GC#1 "Emergence"! The final phase of the flower "Memento Mori" sounds intriguing as well. I also think at some point it would be interesting to explore the fragrance of a cattleya seed pod as it forms (rebirth). The scent is much more subtle than any flower but at the same time it a definite presence that would be understood by anyone who grows orchids or any plant for that matter. I doubt anyone would want to wear the fragrance of a green pod, but I believe there is something in the odor of the forming pods and seeds that could be translated into a fragrance representing growth and potential (i.e. the odors of fresh cut grass, new leaves, etc.)


  2. Gail, you'd be surprised how many people like "green" perfumes, so maybe the seed pod idea isn't so far-fetched. I think I'll skip the odor of protocorms sprouting in nutrient agar, though!